Rheumatic Heart Disease: All You Need to Know

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Update Date 25/09/2020 . 4 mins read
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What is Rheumatic Heart Disease?

Rheumatic heart disease occurs when a person’s heart gets damaged by inflammation as a result of a rheumatic fever. The first step is knowing rheumatic heart disease causes and risk factors.

Rheumatic fever is usually caused by a strep throat infection or scarlet fever infection that’s not properly treated.

Left untreated, rheumatic heart disease can cause a number of complications. This includes heart failure, heart infection, and other forms of damage.

Having knowledge of what is rheumatic heart disease can help people take better care of themselves, prevent it from developing, and help them seek treatment if they have been diagnosed with this disease.

Signs and Symptoms

Now that we have an idea of what is rheumatic heart disease, we must learn what symptoms to watch out for.

Since rheumatic heart disease can result from rheumatic fever, knowing the symptoms of rheumatic fever can help people be aware of the condition before it develops into something more serious.

Here are the symptoms of rheumatic fever:

  • Painful joints, especially the knees and ankles
  • Fever
  • Lumps or nodules under the skin
  • Rashes on your chest, back, or abdomen
  • Weakness
  • Twitching or uncontrollable movement of arms, legs, and facial muscles

Some symptoms are rare, such as nodules and rash. And not all patients with RHD are diagnosed with rheumatic heart fever right away. They should fulfill the diagnostic criteria.

In order to better understand what rheumatic heart disease is, we need to take a look as well at what causes it, specifically rheumatic fever.

Rheumatic Fever after Strep Throat

Rheumatic fever is caused primarily by either strep throat or scarlet fever.

This condition occurs about 1 to 5 weeks after a bout with strep throat or scarlet fever. The fever occurs as the body responds to the bacterial infection.

However, instead of attacking just the bacteria causing the disease, the immune system attacks certain parts of the body. This causes inflammation.

This leads to pain in the joints, weakness, and possible heart valve damage, causing rheumatic heart disease.

Heart Valve Disease: All You Need to Know

If you’ve recently had a bout with rheumatic fever, and experience any of the symptoms below, then you might have rheumatic heart disease.

Rheumatic heart disease usually affects the heart;s valves and muscles, thus leading to certain symptoms of heart failure.
Rheumatic heart diseases exhibits itself in the following:
  • Chest pain
  • Difficulty breathing, or shortness of breath
  • Swelling

Causes and Risk Factors

It can sometimes take years for someone with rheumatic heart disease to notice any symptoms.

This is because the damage can be minimal at first. But with time, this condition causes heart scarring and inflammation.

Frequent Strep Throat Infection

One of the common rheumatic heart disease causes and risk factors is frequent bouts with strep throat.

Being diagnosed with either strep throat or scarlet fever increases the risk of rheumatic heart disease.

But having strep throat or scarlet fever does not automatically mean that you will get rheumatic heart disease.

However, if a person frequently gets sick with strep throat, then that can greatly increase the risk of rheumatic fever and may develop into rheumatic heart disease.

Fever in Children

Children are also more susceptible to rheumatic heart disease. This is because their immune systems aren’t fully developed yet.

So fever in children should not be dismissed, since there is the possibility of the fever being caused by strep throat.

This, in turn, can develop into rheumatic heart disease.

Diagnosis and Treatment

During a physical exam, your doctor will  listen to your heart beat for any murmurs or rubbing sounds which may point to damaged valves in the heart.

How is Rheumatic Heart Disease Diagnosed?

Your doctor may ask you to take the following tests in order to properly diagnose your condition:

Echocardiogram

This is a test that uses sound waves to check the structures of the heart.

Electrocardiogram or ECG

This checks the electrical activity of the heart and will pick up any irregular rhythm caused by heart damage. .

Chest X-rays

These scans can show if the heart is enlarged.

Cardiac MRI

This might be needed to see if there is any damage to the heart muscles and its valves.

Blood tests

These are also used to check for infection, as well as inflammation caused by rheumatic heart disease.

Surgery for Rheumatic Heart Disease

If a person’s heart is severely damaged because of rheumatic heart disease, they may need to undergo surgery.

If the valves are damaged, they can either be repaired or replaced with a mechanical heart valve.

In some cases, a procedure called a “balloon valvotomy” might be prescribed in order to enlarge any valves that may have become constricted.

Medications for Rheumatic Heart Disease

In some cases, medication is prescribed to prevent further inflammation of the heart.

Patients may have to take these medications  for life. Usually, doctors also encourage lifestyle changes to reduce the risk of further damage.

Still, the best way to treat rheumatic heart disease is to prevent it from happening.

This is why it helps to know about rheumatic heart disease causes and risk factors, like strep infections, which should not be taken lightly.

Consult your doctor, especially if you experience this frequently.

Lifestyle changes and home remedies 

A part of managing all the rheumatic heart disease causes and risk factors includes lifestyle changes or home remedies to address this condition.

Tips to Manage Rheumatic Heart Disease

Here are some important things to remember if you have rheumatic heart disease:

  • Eat a healthy, balanced diet of fruit and vegetables to help strengthen your immune system.
  • Daily exercise also helps to keep your body strong and boosts your immunity.
  • Be sure to keep within your ideal weight range. Excess weight can cause additional stress on the heart and can cause further inflammation.
  • Follow your doctor’s recommendations, and make sure to take your medicine as prescribed.

How To Prevent Rheumatic Heart Disease

Key Takeaways

The best way to prevent rheumatic heart disease is to live a healthy lifestyle and be aware of any symptoms.

Read up on additional information about what is rheumatic heart disease and what new approaches can be made to prevent or manage it.

Always consult your doctor when dealing with a strep throat infection or scarlet fever, and take the prescribed antibiotics as necessary.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

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